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# How to Creatively Integrate Science and Math

November 11, 2011 | Ben JohnsonWhy is the sky blue? I remember in my physical science class, our teacher showed us a possible reason why the sky is blue. He took a canister of liquid oxygen and poured it out on the table. I saw the blueness of the liquid as it flowed out and then disappeared. Then we talked about color, frequencies, and absorption, reflected and radiated light. I wondered how scientist ever figured these things out? Duh -- math! How can you really teach science without math? It is impossible. Science is the application of math.

In science, geometric principles such as symmetry, reflection, shape, and structure reach down to the atomic levels. In science, algebraic balance is required in chemical formulas, growth ratios, and genetic matrices. In science, math is used to analyze nature, discover its secrets and explain its existence and this is the big problem. Science is so complex and getting more so each day. In order to study, analyze and interpret science, mathematical tools are required.

In math class one of the biggest needs is relevance. Why not use science to teach math? Since one of the biggest uses of mathematics in science is data gathering and analysis, that is the best place to start. When a teacher gives students a real science problem to solve -- one that requires math tools -- the teacher is giving the students a reason to use math. Math then becomes something useful, not something to be dreaded.

Being able to teach math better and being able to teach science better are powerful reasons for the math and science teacher collaborate with each other. According to a case study conducted by Jennifer Dennis and Mary John O'Hair, another reason that math and science teachers should collaborate is that science helps provide relevance to math that is all too often abstract and isolated calculation operations. Ultimately, as another study reported, the students' increased conceptual understanding of math and science is the greatest benefit of math and science teacher collaboration.

Unfortunately, knowing that increased teacher collaboration in math and science will benefit students and teachers is not enough. Teachers are so busy that finding time to collaborate is difficult. Add to this, the structure of the school inhibits collaboration when math and science teachers are spread out in a large campus. How do you overcome this? Well, a simple request to the principal might do the trick. Another solution is that even though geographically speaking the math and science teachers may be isolated, everyone has cellphone, texting, Facebook or even email can be considered forms of collaboration.

What are ways you work with your companion subject teacher (math or science) to help students understand math and science better?

## Comments (39)

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## New Under the Sun

Gene:

Thanks for the support. It has been around for a while-- at least the 80's, but then again so has "experiential" learning: since the 20's and how far have we gotten? As you stated, it is a ripe field of study that deserves more attention and conversation. Thanks for post!

Ben Johnson

San Antonio, TX

Not a new idea either, as a math and former science teacher, Math and science are areas where collaboration is ripe, just as English and Social Studies.

## Advance math and Science

Dwight:

Great! It sounds like you are trying to make the connection stronger between math and science. You bring up a good point, though. There is a continuum of math and science collaboration ranging from math and science teachers waving "hi" at each other in the cafeteria to team teaching math and science in a correlated manner. Most likely, math teachers, such as yourself are constantly on the look-out for ways to use science to describe and deepen understanding about math. This is more of an integrated approach--which is better than no approach at all. The main point of my article is that if a science teacher is going to be teaching chemical bonding, then the students should have at least enough math skills to do the basic equation balancing, and calculations. Why then don't the math and science teachers put their heads together to find the best way to do this without overloading he students with Schrodinger's equation. Math and science learning should not be compartmentalized and math teachers should know about what the science teachers are doing and vice a versa so learning vocabulary and processes coincide in either discipline.

Please keep connecting math with science--it helps.

Ben Johnson

San Antonio, TX

I am actually a big fan of looking for science applications in math and ways to do science both conceptually and analytically, but I certainly cannot agree that at the high-school level, "science is the application of math." Even at a graduate level, there are many biological and chemical processes for which a good mathematical model is not known. And explaining the boding of chemical elements in 10th grade chemistry using Schrodinger's equation is quite a stretch!

## Long Time Collaboration

pmackd

I feel your pain. Just think of all the time and effort that was invested in what you are doing, and for no reason it is dissolved. Shucks. By the tone of your post, however, it does not appear that you have admitted defeat. You should check out the Mix-It-Up program at Texas State. They have a component for principals and administrators that helps them understand why science and math teacher collaboration is so important (I teach it, so it must be good, right?). Math teachers need to understand science better in order to be able to use it to teach math. That is the genius of the Mix it up Program. Teacher math and science conceptual understanding is increased through 150 hours of intense training (two weeks in the summer and once a quarter during the year) in math and science taught in a correlated way. It can be done. You just needs some good ammunition to convince people.

Ben Johnson

San Antonio, Texas

In my 25 years in the classroom I have tried several times to initiate effective collaboration between science and math teachers. 23 years ago I had a high school principal halt what appeared to be a successful grant effort without even giving me a reason. More recently I obtained a grant from National Education Association to create modules science and math teachers could share. I created the modules and use them, as do other physics teachers but the math teachers just don't have time. They are too busy and too pressured by standardized testing requirements to do anything else. This is a tragic symptom of the dysfunctionality of our current educational policies and system.

## connection between science and math

I am actually a big fan of looking for science applications in math and ways to do science both conceptually and analytically, but I certainly cannot agree that at the high-school level, "science is the application of math." Even at a graduate level, there are many biological and chemical processes for which a good mathematical model is not known. And explaining the boding of chemical elements in 10th grade chemistry using Schrodinger's equation is quite a stretch!

## How to do Something

Richard (if that is your name it's kind of spooky):

It is unfortunate that you are missing the point of Blogs entirely: conversation. I don't pretend to know everything. What I do know, I share, and if you notice the last part of every blog is a request for what the readers know.

We'd like to know what you know how to do, other than berate those that are trying to do something. If that is all you can give then, who contributed the meaningless trite verbiage?

Ben Johnson

San Antonio, Texas

## Why collaboration between science and math teachers is difficult

In my 25 years in the classroom I have tried several times to initiate effective collaboration between science and math teachers. 23 years ago I had a high school principal halt what appeared to be a successful grant effort without even giving me a reason. More recently I obtained a grant from National Education Association to create modules science and math teachers could share. I created the modules and use them, as do other physics teachers but the math teachers just don't have time. They are too busy and too pressured by standardized testing requirements to do anything else. This is a tragic symptom of the dysfunctionality of our current educational policies and system.

## Not a bad idea

Not a new idea either, as a math and former science teacher, Math and science are areas where collaboration is ripe, just as English and Social Studies.

## Utubersity.com

Computers a are only assistants and a good teacher’s will always be needed.

However social networks such as facebook and YouTube as well as great resources including Wikipedia and Wolfram-Alpha are here to stay so that educators must use them in the teaching process. Many academics are posting great educational videos and a curation process is needed to present them in an organized manner.

Online Self-learning is becoming fast the perfect choice of learning, especially with so many great educational videos available for free. The only problem is to sort the good ones from the rest and present them in an organized manner.

This effort is being done by: http://Utubersity.com which presents the best educational videos available on YouTube in an organized, easy to find way to watch and learn.

They are classified and tagged in a way that enables people to find these materials more easily and efficiently and not waste time browsing through pages of irrelevant search results.

The website also enhances the experience using other means such as recommending related videos, Wikipedia content and so on. There's also a Spanish version called http://utubersidad.com

This is a project that YouTube should embrace itself, with curated content from academics and maybe using a different URL (Youtubersity?) so it won’t be blocked by schools.

## This article is typical of

This article is typical of the shallowness of administrative understanding of what it means to claim to know how to do something. What a meaningless piece of trite verbiage.